Thanks to Adelaide Super-Drome and Cycling South Australia for allowing us to use such an awesome venue.
Shane: “Do you sleep?”
Sally: “Not Much…
…“January is my favourite month of the year. Everyone thinks I’m crazy – that it’s so stressful and hard – but, it is my favourite. We’re all running on adrenaline and you have so much fun.”
In this episode of ‘Off the Bike’, Shane Kelly and Sally Heading are of course referring to the biggest event of the year on the Australian Cycling calendar, the Santos Tour Down Under. And it’s the biggest and busiest time of the year for Sally, Event Manager of TDU.
But that’s not to say that it all happens in Jan.
““We have people go, ‘so when do you start organising the next event, is that, you know, October before? Three months is that all it takes?’
“No, it’s a full time job.”
Shane Kelly sits down with Sally Heading in this insightful episode of ‘Off the Bike’, providing us with a glimpse into what it really takes to put on a world-class Grand Tour festival. From production of the Jerseys “hot off the press”, to the organisation of meal plans for the riders, and the logistics of dealing with potential natural disasters, Sally and her team clearly have their work cut out for them. But Sally and her team are clearly cut from a different cloth.
Sally and her core team of four are already preparing for the following year as soon as the Tour has finished. They begin by debriefing to determine what went well, and where they want to improve for next year. Managing twenty pro tour teams and their support networks, planning for potential risks such as bushfires like those that hit the Adelaide Hills in 2015, and ensuring that spectators and Bupa Challenge participants have the most enjoyable experience possible — it’s more like two full time jobs.
And it’s surprising to learn that Sally – who has been working on TDU for 15 years now – never had an interest in cycling to begin with.
“They asked me to come to an interview for Tour Down Under, and I said ‘no way’…I had no interest in it.
“The first night – which was the opening criterium down at Glenelg that year in 2002 – it went past and I went ‘what is this, this is amazing’…you know, the speed and the atmosphere, and the energy from the crowd…”
That same buzz and excitement is set to illuminate Adelaide once again in January 2016 as the Santos Tour Down Under sees pro tour teams from all around the globe descend on South Australia to fight for the Ochre Jersey.
With the likes of Astana Pro Team and BMC Racing Team confirmed, Sally admits that sometimes it’s easy to forget the shear significance of having world-class Australian teams return year after year.
“Sometime it’s taken for granted a bit that the Australian riders will be here at the event, and I think that sometimes, you know, a European race would be so excited to have Simon Gerrans on their start line, and Cadel Evans on their start line; you know, Rohan Dennis, Jack Bobridge; all these guys. And I think it’s taken for granted that they’re Australian so they’re going to be here, but it’s a star field having them in it, and we are very lucky.”
See also: Shane Kelly interviews Cadel Evans
The Santos Tour Down Under is unique in that spectators can get right up close to their heroes, as many pros choose to ride back to the Village from the finish line providing a rare opportunity to ride alongside them…if you can keep up that is.
That atmosphere for which TDU has become so well-known has been nurtured over the years, with the aim of turning the event into a real festival of cycling. It’s about more than just the race with the addition of street entertainment, and stalls showcasing the fantastic food and wine from the region, and of course, the Bupa Challenge Tour enabling the rest of us to get involved as well.
The addition of the 2015 Santos Women’s Tour was a huge success for women’s cycling and clearly for the event as well as it returns in 2016, showcasing the best-of-the-best in women’s pro cycling.
And in 2016, the most popular climb in South Australia will feature as part of a Tour stage and in the Bupa Challenge Tour. The Norton Summit will challenge the lungs of pro racers and weekend warriors alike, and is sure to be a great addition to the route. But BikeExchange Stage 5 up Willunga Hill remains a crowd favourite. Sally and Shane agree it’s one of the most exciting finishes of the whole Tour; the stage that in Sally’s words, gives her “chills.”
Check out more from the Shane Kelly Off the Bike Series!
Anna Meares - "The greatest female cyclist ever"
Stuart O'Grady - No other legend like Stuart O'Grady
Bridie O'Donnell - A tenacious force in women's cycling.
Emma Carney - Swimming through a cardiac arrest.
Dave Sanders - Behind every exceptional athlete is an exceptional coach.
Lance Picioane - Former AFL player helping young people struggling with mental illness reach their full potential.
Frank Zanatta - The man who has raced 34 Melbourne to Warrnambools.